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SO THE OBVIOUS QUESTION emerges: Why have we sent thousands of American soldiers 7,000 miles across the ocean in order to enforce a Soviet-style system? If gas station owners were simply buying gas at a market price, they wouldn’t have any opportunity to fence it onto the black market. In fact, there would be no black market. Competition might eliminate half the gas stations but those that survived would thrive. The government would collect its proceeds from the refinery and might have enough money to pay its soldiers and police officers, who are often deserting for lack of pay. Of course the oil industry would remain a state monopoly — but that is the choice we have faced all along. (Last week, at the urging of the World Bank, the government did raise the price of oil to about 60 percent of the market price.)
It is important to recognize how primitive conditions are in Iraqi society and how much of a task we have before us. Edward Banfield described an almost identical situation in the southern Italy of the 1960s in his classic book, The Moral Basis for a Backward Society. Banfield found there was no “public sector.” People were loyal only to their immediate and extended families. Neighbors were regarded with a great deal of suspicion and strangers were beyond the pale. Consequently there was no cooperative enterprise.
Iraqi society functions much the same way. In the smaller towns, houses are often surprisingly comfortable and well built. Interior spaces are clean with walls made of plaster and rugs covering stone or dirt floors. The fieldstone-and-cement exteriors can be surprisingly artistic. Yet each home is surrounded by a wall and concern for the outside world ends there.
There is no municipal garbage collection, even in the more prosperous towns. Instead, people dump their trash “over the wall.” The result is that a handsome villa that looks like it could inhabit a Florida suburb will be surrounded by a vacant lot filled with broken bottles and discarded plastic containers a foot deep. Households flush “gray water” from sinks and baths through a small pipe and into the street. In the cities, toilet water is treated the same way and the streets have become open sewers.
Although there are “city councils” — usually run by tribal leaders — there is no effective municipal government. Local taxes do not exist and whatever funds are collected go to Baghdad, where they are distributed with enormous inequality and favoritism. By the time these funds reach the municipal level there is literally nothing left. In Tikrit we saw road crews spreading fresh tar on a section of Highway 1 that was already adequately surfaced. Meanwhile, whole neighborhoods and villages remain unpaved.
Even if the violence is quelled — and that remains a big enough question mark — the task of making Iraq anything close to a functioning society remains immense. Enthusiasts keep talking about how “the Iraqi people must stand up,” but the Iraqi people are essentially inert. The rudiments of self-government have yet to appear.
“History shows that the successful suppression of an armed insurgency takes at least a decade,” says Major General Benjamin Mixon, commander of the Coalition effort in the northern provinces as he sits in his offices at FOB Speicher in Tikrit. “The question is whether the American people will have the patience to sustain that kind of effort.”
Indeed, even if the violence is quelled, the task has only begun.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?
H/T to National Review Online